Fanfiction: The Moon Mirror (Pojing & Bai Qian Alternative Ending) - Chapter 11 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 11

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

*This chapter takes place after chapter 19 part 3, following Bai Qian and Yehua’s discovery about the dragon scale.



Slow down, Yehua,” Bai Qian tried, but he didn’t seem to be listening.

If she was shocked and bewildered, Yehua was furious -- with himself, perhaps.

Moyuan was not dead. Or he was, but there was still a chance his soul could be kept from being claimed completely by the Nothingness, and the golden energy from Luoji’s weapon held the key to it all.

A nod of agreement from Lord Donghua had sent Yehua into a state of non-stopping actions. He had turned on his heels while Bai Qian had still been struggling to gather her thoughts, had ignored anyone who’d tried to get his attention, cloud-jumped straight to this place -- the Sea of Innocence -- and was now moving like Hellfire was behind them.

Struggling to keep up with Yehua, Bai Qian admitted that his current anger was justified. If it was as they’d discussed, that Moyuan’s body still served as an anchor his soul was finding a way to get back to, then what they’d done -- sealing him inside stone and leaving him here at the Sea of Innocent... They had practically buried him alive.

“Your spear,” Yehua commanded a confused-looking guard the moment they arrived at the right island and a few yards away from where Moyuan lay.

“I… I beg your pardon, Your Majesty?”

Not bothering to explain, Yehua seized the weapon from the guard’s hand, aimed, and threw it forward. The blade struck the stone coffin, pushing the top right off. It crashed into one of the stone pillars and broke in half.

Bai Qian gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. The guards in the vicinity all stared at them in utter shock.

Only then did Yehua seem to take a moment to breathe. One step after another he moved closer to the opened sarcophagus. Anxiously, Bai Qian followed, her breath still caught in her throat.

Yehua placed his hands on the stone edge and gazed inside. Until now, the God of War still looked as though he was just deep in a peaceful sleep.

Maybe he was -- Bai Qian felt hot tears pooling in her eyes. She could hardly believe this, but it was true, there was still a chance. He could still sit on his dais again. Could still see her and call her Seventeenth again.

And they would talk then.

Shifu.

All the things she would tell him…

“My apologies, brother,” Yehua murmured. He then whipped around at the guards and fired his orders. “Remove the God of War from here immediately. He is to rest on a dais on this island which you will do well to prepare and protect. Double the guards around this area but keep a distance from this island until further instructions.”

Exchanging quick looks with each other, the men bowed, “Yes, Your Majesty.”

Bai Qian lowered her voice to remind him, “Make sure they don’t talk until we get back.”

Yehua motioned for one of the guards to come over and quickly made it understood that no one was to breathe a word about this arrangement to another soul unless they wanted a permanent residence in the Arctic Prison.

“When do we leave for Xunzhua?” Bai Qian asked once all the men had scattered to carry out their orders.

“I will need to arrange a few things with Lord Donghua first,” Yehua answered. “In two hours, if you can.”


***


Yehua did not consider stopping for rest once he had taken off. The journey that would usually take three to four days ended in one and a half after extensive cloud-jumping, and riding in the air. At one point, he even transformed to gain speed and advantage against the strong winter winds.

“You need a break, Yehua,” Bai Qian decided when they had landed on the edge of a cliff a few thousand miles from Xunzhua, vast water crashing against the rocks below. There was a significant drop in temperature compared to their last stop.

Yehua took in a massive breath. “You make the next cloud-jump, then.”

“After a short break.”

“Well, then I can --”

“After you rest, Yehua,” she repeated firmly, pulling back just when he prompted her forward. “You’ve been flying in your true form for too long and too fast, if you don’t take a minute to recover, you might run out of breath in midair and plunge us both into the ocean. I don’t think I’d like to carry you the rest of the way. Or worse, if you are reduced to your snake form due to exhaustion --”

“That…” Yehua held up a hand. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Bai Qian shook her head hopelessly, but Yehua seemed to be listening to her at least. He inhaled deeply and walked to the edge, arms folded and gazing restlessly at the horizon, as though he didn’t really have an idea how to start resting.

They hadn’t had the chance to talk since the start of the journey; and seeing him now -- so full of hope -- Bai Qian decided she’d better voice her concern.

“When we get the golden substance,” she started. “If we manage to…”

“We will,” Yehua said. “The King of Xunzhua is far from considering me a friend, but he is not without honor. He will understand. Xunzhua couldn’t have survived without the God of War’s sacrifice, he knows this.”

“Well… yes, I believe so too,” Bai Qian hesitated. “Though, that isn’t what I want to talk about.”

Yehua turned to face her briefly. “I beg your pardon, I was getting ahead of myself. What is it?”

Yes,” Bai Qian emphasized. “That’s what I meant, Yehua. You’re getting ahead of yourself. There will be a lot to do with the golden substance before we can actually use it.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that this -- it isn’t a certainty, it is a chance. And you shouldn’t… you shouldn’t…”

“Raise my hope?” He frowned. “Do you not believe he can come back?”

“I do. But I can’t pretend to forget the opposing forces that might stand in the way. What we came up with is a theory that hasn’t been tested.”

“You are the one who came to Lord Donghua first. It’s also you who convinced him to believe us.”

“Yes. I trust my sources of information and yours. But I’m also prepared to be disappointed.”

Yehua’s face was impassive.

“Reviving an immortal being,” she went on with a slight shake of her head. “We’re still talking about interfering with the natural way of things.”

Bai Qian realized then that she was not pointing this out to Yehua, but to herself. Her chest tightened, tears once again rising to her throat. She could not bear to hope and have that hope crushed again. It was best to consider failure a possibility.

“I’m more prepared than you think,” Yehua turned towards the open water again. “If not to say that I have more experience than you with disappointment.”

“Of course,” she murmured. This wasn’t the first time someone dear to him had been taken, nor was it the first time he tried to undo the will of Death.

With nothing else to say, without Yehua’s impatience to distract her, Bai Qian began to feel her own anxiety, that which was caused by something other than their mission, rise like a crushing tide, like the attacking waves of the ocean at the bottom. And she… she wasn’t as strong as the cliff they were standing on.

Xunzhua.

That was where they were heading. And that meant seeing Pojing again.

She had wanted to make this trip, to speak to him with complete honesty. But until yesterday, that had remained an idea, something she’d still needed to plan out and go over in her head perhaps a few hundred times more. Going there to ask for a favor was something she’d never thought she would have to do. And this kind of favor…

What would he think?

That is, if he hasn’t already cut me out of his life for good. Like I wanted him to.

“You seem troubled,” Yehua’s quiet voice sliced through her thoughts.

Bai Qian took a deep breath. “I’m just a bit worried.”

“About something other than our mission?”

“It’s been quite a while since I last saw the King of Xunzhua. I’m not sure how he views me… us, now that our accidental alliances are over.”

“Did you part with him on bad terms?”

“No,” Bai Qian said, puzzled. “Why would you think that?”

“I have it on good authority that the King of Xunzhua once considered you for marriage.”

Good authority? Does he mean Zhuowei?

“No, I don’t believe we’re on bad terms. But we might have parted without fully understanding each other.”

“Will it stand in the way of us getting that item?” asked Yehua candidly.

“I wouldn’t say so.”

“We both need to be at our most diplomatic and persuasive today, Qianqian. I know you usually can manage under any kind of pressure. But if you are this nervous to see the King of Xunzhua…”

“No! I’m not nervous about facing him,” she denied, deciding it was time to brush this matter to the side. “If you think about it -- why should I ever be? He’s just… an obnoxious prick who tried his best to insult my family and my clan right on the day we first met.”

“Yes,” Yehua replied quietly. “And you were just a mortal woman who force-fed me raw meat.”

Bai Qian’s face was instantly on fire. She narrowed her eyes at him, trying hard to keep the shock in her voice to the minimum.

“When did you begin to talk like that, Yehua?”

“I may have made a lot of mistakes concerning you, but I think I understand you to an extent.”

What did he understand? Bai Qian couldn’t tell whether his tone was that of empathy or spite. Was he angry about how she had treated his brother? And how much did he really know? Father Immortal… she had a lot to explain to him later no matter how this night went.

“We should get a move on,” Yehua said before she could respond.

***

The last cloud-jump took them to the city’s main entrance. The sun had long set in this part of the world and it came to Bai Qian’s attention that she was seriously underdressed; in fact, both she and Yehua were. They were knee-deep in snow, the ruthless cold attacked her like needles through her thick layers of clothing, falling flakes stinging her cheeks. Her fingers became numb inside her gloves after less than a minute.

“No one said it was going to be this cold,” Bai Qian complained through chattering teeth. It wasn’t true, of course. Pojing had told her once that Xunzhua’s winters were ruthless. But back then, she hadn’t thought much of what he’d said.

A lot of things he said -- I did well to ignore.


Quickly they entered the city, the crowdedness on the street eased the cold a little. Warm fires, small gatherings, street performers -- Xunzhua seemed to have gotten back on its feet after the terror they had been through a few months ago. There was, however, if one looked closely, an unmistakable sadness that blanketed this city, one that was etched on the faces of some women here and there, laced between the innocent laughter of the children they brought along.

Widows, orphans, parents whose children never came back from the border, boys and girls who’d once had siblings to jump into rain puddles and race across the streets with. The festivities of the night were but a temporary distraction from the loss and suffering they had been put through.

It took the both of them quite a while to finally arrive at the guest entrance since there seemed to have been a tenfold increase in security around the palace. At the doors, Bai Qian presented her Qingqiu pendant to one of the guards while he eyed Yehua curiously.

“And this is?” he asked, handing her back the jade.

“My assistant from Qingqiu,” Bai Qian answered. “Is something the matter?”

“No,” he said to Yehua. “Just thought you looked familiar. Please go in, Queen of Qingqiu.”

A number of guards had been added to the enchanted corridor that led to the Guest Hall. And even though no weapon could be seen on them, Bai Qian knew that each one of them was armed enough to take down an Arctic Kirin.

When she was sure they were out of earshot, Bai Qian said in a low voice, “You look too confident and commanding for someone who’s just an assistant, Yehua.”

“I had very little time to practice,” he whispered back.

Entering the hall, Bai Qian realized that she and Yehua were the only people there. There were traces of an earlier gathering -- food and drinks on the side stands, watermarks on the carpet -- but it seemed the people who had been here had long moved on to somewhere else.

“The banquet has started,” Yehua said. “It must have been going on for a while now. Both the king and princess would be at the main hall at this time.”

“And Nalan would be at their side, as usual,” Bai Qian contemplated. “I’ll have to go to the main hall to see them then.”

“We can ask one of the guards to deliver a message.”

“That’ll take too long. We can’t tell anyone the truth about what’s urgent, and if we wait for our message to be sorted along with all the other messages requesting an audience with the king, we’ll be waiting till tomorrow morning.”

“Perhaps my identification pendant will speed up the process.”

Bai Qian shook her head. “You’ve forgotten, Pojing has the tendency to dismiss what you think is important. And if he gets the impression you are enforcing your ‘Celestial authority’ here, he’ll make you wait on purpose.”

“You’re right,” Yehua nodded with a small scowl, then he looked around. “Let me fetch you an attendant then. You can’t attend a banquet in your travelling clothes --”

“There’s no need,” she grinned, pulling out her small enchanted sack from under her cloak. “I can get ready by myself. I only need a mirror.”

Yehua looked unconvinced. Truth be told, Bai Qian was a bit nervous herself considering it had been forever since she had attended an event of this scale, and to be there as herself too, not under a disguise. But they had no time to wait for an attendant.

“Turn around,” she said.

Yehua’s eyes slightly widened as he let out a nervous laugh. “What are you going to do? We don’t have time to try out new tricks now, Qianqian.”

“You’ll see. Turn around, Yehua.”

He did as told and with a curious frown. Bai Qian dashed to the small mirror in a corner of the hall. Reaching into her sack, she produced a light periwinkle dress.

“If I can’t come with you, Gu-gu, you must let me pick out the gown you’ll wear!” Fengjiu had insisted.

Bai Qian had nearly protested, but she’d remembered that no matter how bewildered and anxious she was about the matter concerning Moyuan, if she had to actually take part in this banquet for whatever reason, she would be representing Qingqiu in front of the eight realms. It was one thing to prefer simplicity, but another to appear at an event dressed as though you had no respect for the host. Furthermore, having a large number of leaders see her in terribly torn clothes and drenched in mud in the Nine Heavens once was enough humiliation for a lifetime, she didn’t need to give them more reasons to raise their eyebrows at Qingqiu.

And when it came to making a good impression with looks, why would she not trust Fengjiu?

Bai Qian flung the gown upward, with her spell it replaced the one she was wearing as it came back down. The sash tightened itself around her waist, the many layers of the dress were as soft as clouds, their different shades of purple interlacing, creating an ever-changing color that was impossible to name. Tiny jewels were sewn on the hem, sparkling under the candlelight.

Next, laying out all the items Fengjiu had given her at home onto the marble stand below the mirror, Bai Qian looked closely at her reflection, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and snapped her fingers.

A faint fragrance brushed by the next second. Her hair began to be tugged this way and that. Something like soft sand caressed her face. They brushed over the lines of her brows, attached to her cheeks and swept across her lips.

When the movements ceased, Bai Qian opened her eyes, her reflection not too far from what she’d wanted.

Not bad.

“You can look now.”

Yehua turned back. His unmoved expression held for a minute before amazement gradually made it to the surface as he gave her a thorough scan from head to toe.

She put on a solemn expression. “Will I do, Heavenly Emperor?”

That put a small smile on his worried face, then a chuckle. “Splendidly.”

“Fengjiu taught me the spell right before we left. You have to have a clear idea of how everything is done and memorize the look you want. Never had to use it before in my life, but I’m an apt student.”

“You are,” he nodded, clearly impressed.

“Did you think I would come here unprepared?”

“No, it’s the extent of your preparation that surprises me.”

“I’ll be back shortly,” she said with a grin, turning around and dashing out of the room.


***


Bai Qian raced across the corridors and finally arrived at the right place in little time thanks to the helpful attendants along the way. When she began to climb the stairs that led to the main hall, however, nervousness started to overpower her confidence. Not because of the guards whose eyes followed her as she made her way up step by step, not because of the crowdedness that awaited her at the top, but the fact that she was now only one wall away from Pojing -- the man she had refused twice and since then had discovered that she couldn’t stand to be away from.

Gods… it was stupid how hot her face was at the mere thought of him.

What kind of banquet was this? Bai Qian wondered. Was everyone free to walk around and talk to whomever they liked or was it like one of those gatherings in the Nine Heavens, where the guests were expected to sit still and watch dances from the beginning to the end? And where any small movement made by someone would be detected and scrutinized by everyone else?

The stairs seemed to go on forever. She picked up the front of her dress, quickened her pace but kept her calm facade in place. At last, a set of wide doors met her at the top. Guards on both sides silently bowed; and as she indicated her wish to enter, they pushed the doors open.

Bai Qian walked through, the full view of the room hit her eyes and it took her a great deal of control not to gasp out loud.

I should have used the entrance downstairs.

She was on the upper level, it took another long set of stairs to reach the banquet below. Perhaps it was the sound of the opening doors, perhaps it was the fact that she was late and alone -- more than a hundred pairs of eyes were staring up at her now. Glittering gowns, embroidered coats, sparkling jewels.

Her preparation was not misplaced, after all.

It took Bai Qian a minute to start breathing again and she began to descend the staircase. Though drowned in anxiety, she could still appreciate the luxurious arrangement of the hall. Flower vases the size of grown men were positioned along the wall, hundreds and thousands of candles hung from the ceiling, faint and pleasant music sounded from a corner somewhere.

Had they sent people to the mortal realm just for these flowers?

Bai Qian spotted Nalan watching over the gathering from behind the railings on the second floor, Zhuowei among some people she seemed comfortable with near a giant ice sculpture, and her brother… Bai Qian’s heart skipped a beat when her eyes found the King of Xunzhua on his throne at the forefront. He was talking to someone, or had been before she’d come in.

She kept moving down, wishing that maybe when everyone had seen that it was only another guest entering, they would turn away and resume their conversations. But that didn’t happen, more and more curious eyes were starting to find her. She put on a smile, randomly selecting a few faces from the crowds and nodding at them.

“Queen of Qingqiu,” one man -- impossibly tall with a braided beard -- approached her when she had reached the bottom of the stairs. “It is an honor to meet you in person.”

Her name began to be passed around in whispers following that greeting.

Now she remembered -- words had gotten around in the last few months that she was the one who had stabbed the Dark Immortal in the heart. Despite her best effort to explain that she’d only finished the work others had bled, died, and been burned for, the embellished stories spread further and more quickly than any clarification she’d put out.

And now they were all staring at her with expectations, as if she was going to pull the Crafters’ fan from her sleeve pocket and perform a miracle.

“The honor is mine,” she responded to the man. “Erm…”

“How we have longed to meet the slayer of the Dark Immortal,” a woman from the crowd stepped forward with a slight dip of her head before Bai Qian could ask for the man’s name. Several other people followed suit.

“Queen of Qingqiu.”

Please, no… Bai Qian forced another smile as she moved along, trying to focus on the fact that she needed to see Pojing. More whispers were exchanged around her, some of admiration, some others -- the complete opposite.

“I thought she’d be older,” someone murmured.

“And taller. Are we sure this is the Queen of Qingqiu? Or is she the little niece?”

“The gown is Celestial-made, I reckon.”

“That face, though…”

“A nine-tailed fox, no doubt.”

“I’ve seen prettier single-tailed foxes,” came a scoff. “Those with the decency to curtsy properly when they make new acquaintances.”

“If you think that’s the kind of training people get at Kunlun,” a response. “It's no wonder you never got admitted to their school.”

“Slayer of the Dark Immortal!” someone’s voice boomed among the courteous atmosphere.

They all turned.

A man no older than Yehua strode towards her with a younger girl by his side. He gave a quick dip of his head.

“We never thought we’d have the pleasure of meeting you here,” he said, so excited that he forgot to introduce himself. “Long have we heard the stories of your victory over the most dangerous immortal of all time!”

His loud voice echoed across the hall, like a herald making an announcement for an entire village. Bai Qian felt her face burning, wishing there was a way she could vanish and reappear in front of Pojing right now without anyone knowing.

“The stories exagge…”

No sooner had she finished her reply than the man began again. “A legendary fan from nowhere answered to the Queen of Qingqiu’s summon and caused havoc on the battlefield of Xunzhua. With that same fan, she stabbed the Dark Immortal through the heart, its power so great his body shattered and the pieces of his dragon soul were sent across the eight realms and four seas!”

Whoever had told these stories in the first place to this extent should be sentenced to eternal mortal trials, Bai Qian thought spitefully. But she was pleased to notice that the man’s sister looked no less embarrassed than she herself felt.

“Your magic must be beyond anything we can imagine, Queen of Qingqiu?” the man continued energetically.

“Well…”

“Please broaden our horizon!”

What?

Several people around them echoed this suggestion.

By Pangu’s nerves
… she had given her iron fan back to the Crafters’ Eldest. All she had with her was the silk fan from Zhuowei. There was no magic she could perform with a fan that could outshine the splendor of this hall.

Back at home, Bai Qian had predicted this kind of situation, but she didn’t think she’d actually have to face it.

“She’s not here to entertain, brother!” The girl tugged on her brother's sleeve. “And I’m sure she wants to greet the King of Xunzhua first.”

But he ignored her. Gazing around, Bai Qian knew there was no way she could get out of this. Every person in this room expected her to prove herself, to do something more than appearing in a beautiful dress. Something to convince them that Qingqiu deserved the reputation it had.

Something to intrigue but not to offend, Bai Qian reminded herself.

She caught Zhuowei’s eyes from a distance away. The princess seemed to be asking whether she needed to be rescued from the demanding crowd. But how would Qingqiu look if she declined this request?

Taking in a deep breath, Bai Qian began. “Our victory against the Dark Immortal belongs to every soldier who has fought to protect the defenseless, not to me or my weapon.”

A few murmurs of approval were raised among the crowd.

“My skills are but ordinary, but I will gladly contribute to this wonderful evening.” She cleared her throat and spoke louder. “If the King of Xunzhua allows it.”

The mass of guests slowly looked in the direction of their host. People began to move to either side, gradually leaving a clear path from where she stood to the dais. Bai Qian’s heart started pounding out of her chest the second she and Pojing could see each other clearly.

Well dressed and quite nonchalant -- as someone who had been prepared from birth to become a king would look at an event like this. Yet she also saw in him something like a beast that was too large for the space it was being kept in.

After a minute, he raised his arm in an inviting gesture, “I consider it an honor.”

Bai Qian cast a look around. Curious eyes glued to her. The man who had started it all looked suspicious, for some reason, as though he thought she was going to throw some love potion at him any minute.

She opened her hand, a small crystal appeared, floating inside a thin bubble just above her palm. It was a trick she had learned from Changshan, who was used to cooking and preparing drinks for many people at once -- a spell to summon and distribute ingredients and spices in large amounts where they were expected to be.

“You wouldn’t need this spell anyway, Seventeenth,” he had told her at the time. “The food you are able to make isn’t edible enough to ever be distributed to a crowd.”

True. She was not distributing food or drinks tonight.

The guests’ eyes followed the object in her hand. She tossed it in the air, above everyone’s head, and slammed her hands together in front of her.

The crystal burst, pink dust pouring out from its center. The particles quickly began to form a current around their former container. Under the warm light of the hall, they looked almost like a constellation. She let the glittering mixture linger in the air for a while, letting their mysterious beauty feed on the curiosity and anticipation below.

Then she flung her arms to either side.

The dust was dispersed to all directions, reaching the furthest corners of the hall. The enchanting fragrance of Zheyan’s peach blossoms bathed the banquet in its glory.

Gasps followed, astonishment erupting in the hall.

“Love potion,” they murmured.

“The Fox Tribe’s magic.”

“Such an exquisite scent.”

“Never in my life…”

“Don’t inhale any,” someone said dreamily. “Love Potion is fatal.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Love Potion doesn’t exist,” hissed the prince’s sister as she gently elbowed the one who’d just made that comment.

Bai Qian smiled and gave the girl a slight nod. Despite the suspicious remarks, applause soon rose across the hall. Not many people in the eight realms had not heard of High God Zheyan’s ten-mile long forest; not many did not wish to see the legendary trees once in their lives and be able to breathe in this unrivalled fragrance.

“Thank you for the gift, Queen of Qingqiu,” Pojing’s voice claimed their attention.

Seeing this as a sign of approval, the rest of the guests who had not spoken began to move on to greet her. Pleasantries and questions poured at her from all directions, too many for her to handle at once.

Not now, Bai Qian tried her best not to be rude to anyone and to push her way towards the front.

CLANK.

The sound of something being slammed onto marble made everyone’s head turn. Exclaims rose once again as dancers appeared from the ceiling, swooping up and down on silk fabrics, forming groups in the air just above the center. The gentle music changed its tune to accommodate the new dance.

Grateful for this timely interruption, Bai Qian quickly picked up her pace.

“Oh --”

She crashed hard into someone. A pair of hands were instantly upon her shoulders.

“P --” she gasped happily. “King of Xunzhua.”

He let go, taking his arms behind his back and looking at her curiously.

“What brings you here?”

Bai Qian wanted to pull him out of this hall right away to start telling him what she was here for, but the strange coldness in his voice was impossible to ignore.

“You sent me an invitation.”

His frown deepened. Then, throwing a few glances around, as if scanning the crowd for danger, he stepped closer to her and lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “I had very little to do with this banquet. Zhuowei invited whomever she wanted, and the council threw in a few suggestions.”

“Well… sorry to disappoint,” she said, quite stung. “But listen -- I do need to speak with you.”

He took hold of her upper arm and steered her further away from the crowd.

“About what?” he asked, then abruptly changed the subject. “Did you bring protection along? Tell me you have at least one armed guard with you.”

“Why would a guard be needed? I’m used to travelling alone, and I’m sure most people here made the journey on their own.”

“You are not the Queen of Qingqiu you used to be to the world, in case you haven’t noticed. My congratulations on the admiration you have earned, but be prepared to deal with hidden blades wherever you go.”

“Don’t worry, I’m here with someone, and he’s more than armed. Pojing,” she looked up at him. “I need to talk to you now. This is urgent, can you spare a few minutes?”

He didn’t answer, instead gave her a long, confusing gaze. Bai Qian blinked, discreetly looking herself up and down then brushing the back of her fingers across her cheeks lest there was dust on them.

“Wait for me in the corridor,” he said, turning around, his shoulder slightly brushing against hers as he walked back towards the crowd.

It didn’t take long for several people to flock to him with chatter -- beautiful princesses, nobles who wished to introduce them, and some others who sounded like they desperately wanted to squeeze more information about Xunzhua’s shields out of him. They fired questions and compliments at him like there was no tomorrow.

Bai Qian dashed to the exit of the lower level. In the corridor she found a wall mirror hung between two large vases.

Was there ever a banquet where everyone just came because they were fond of the host?

The guards along the wall gave her a few curious looks, as though wondering who on earth would put on such a luxurious dress and then leave the banquet early.

“There’s no need to follow. Resume your duties.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Bai Qian turned on her heels. Pojing and his lieutenant were emerging from the hall. Reaching her, Nalan immediately bowed, looking overjoyed, more than Bai Qian could understand why.

“Queen of Qingqiu,” he beamed. “I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you here.”

“So am I to see you, Nalan,” Bai Qian smiled back. Then, to his king, she dropped her voice. “I’m sorry to have interrupted your banquet.”

“No matter,” he replied. “If anything, you have graced the evening with your presence. What can I do for you?”

“Yehua is waiting in the Guest Hall. If you could send someone to inform him, he and I will explain everything to you clearly.”

“Ahh, so you did bring an armed guard.” Curiosity swept across Pojing’s face then. “What could it possibly be that he had to come here himself?”